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Review: Chinese Revolution

By: Charley Bolding-Smith Posted: April-05-2011 in
The Chinese House, Phnom Penh, click for more photos
Charley Bolding-Smith

The Chinese House, at the north end of Sisowath Quay, recently changed hands, and now operates as Tepui Restaurant Lounge. It offers sophisticated dining from a kitchen influenced by Mediterranean and South American cuisines, with Asian accents. If that suggests the oft-maligned ‘fusion’ style of cuisine, rest easy because this newcomer is combining the different elements to produce inspired cookery.

The venue will be familiar to many readers. The house itself is a winning combination of Chinese and French colonial architectural styles, built in 1903. In 2008, it was transformed into an art gallery and bar. The Chinese House staged some memorable events, but was too often bereft of customers. The new operators have re-sited the bar to the ground floor, and refurbished the first floor as a dining room. The structural beauty of the large loft-style space remains, but now enhanced by Chinese pendant lights which give the appearance of a nightglow at a hot air balloon fiesta. Yet, it’s almost empty when we start of our meal.

The kitchen, which previously offered dim sum and snacks, is now run by Head Chef Gisela Salazar Golding, who received her chef’s training in Spain. Its intent, and Golding’s antecedents, was made clear early after our arrival. As we perused the menu an amuse bouche of Gazpacho soup appeared, the taste and consistency hinting of the classic Andalusian recipe.

The menu is short, and it would be possible for a party of four or five to run through it from top to bottom. Tuna Tartare with a Wasabi Emulsion ($8.50) was served attractively as four lozenges on chinaware, accompanied by the traditional toast wafers. The fish was fresh and finely balanced by the Wasabi. I felt it needed subtle additional piquancy – an additional twist of Lemon, perhaps – although my companion didn’t. We agreed to differ. Our other starter, Salmon Croquette, with Homemade Tartare Sauce ($5.50) is a simple dish, but the breadcrumb coating was delicate, and each of the five lozenges proved a mouthful of comfort. The two appetizers worked well in combination - lovely stuff, paired with a goblet of the Australian ‘De Bortoli’ house Chardonnay ($4 glass; $20 bottle).

Braised Beef Cheek with pain d’epices and Creamy Mashed Potatoes was jaw-droppingly good. The meat had been cooked until unctuous and butter-soft. The potato beneath, sitting in a pool of deep rich jus, was lusciously velvety, and complimented the meat to perfection. It spoke clearly of Golding’s Spanish training, but also reminded me of a memorable meal enjoyed at St John, the specialist offal restaurant in Smithfield, London. Mackerel (a common name applied to a number of different species) was served grilled with Creamed Sweet Potato, and pickles. The fish had been filleted from the bone, its flesh was succulent but not oily in the way that some varieties can be. The light vinaigrette balanced the flavours nicely.

First-rate stuff, and at this stage we were pleasantly satisfied. It seemed a shame, though, not to round off a wonderful meal with dessert. Chocolate Cake, Banana Toffee and Vanilla Ice Cream ($5.50) did not disappoint. The final course rounded of the price, without wine, to around $50. It seemed a reasonable price to pay for this level of cooking.

By the end of our meal the dining room was full. Tepui Restaurant Lounge has only been open for a couple of weeks, but the word is obviously out – the crowd were done up to the nines and worth watching. On the way out, we chatted with the genial Antonio, one of the partners in the new venture. A tepui, it seems, is a table-top mountain or mesa found in the Guiana Highlands of South America. On the evidence of our meal, Tepui Restaurant at the Chinese House is resting atop of Phnom Penh’s fine dining destinations.


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